Summer Moviethon 2016: Fear and Desire

July 10: #27, Fear and Desire

Well, we have nothing to lose but our futures.”

Fear and Desire isn't a good film, although we should be thankful that it allowed Stanley Kubrick to go from photographer to director and get some rookie mistakes out of the way with a script that wasn't going to be exceptional no matter what he had done with it.

With a simple “soldiers behind enemy lines” story, the setup isn't bad. However, the same can't be said about the characters, who are largely either completely dull (Kenneth Harp's Lt. Corby) or absolutely ridiculous (Pvt. Sidney).

Sidney in particular goes from a little frazzled to batshit crazy in 0.3 seconds, deciding to act out as a dumbass weirdo rapist the moment he's left to babysit a random captive girl that the group finds. The best character among the group is Frank Silvera's Sgt. Mac, who showcases a lone island of personality in a sea of completely flat dialogue.

A lot of the directorial choices are real head-scratchers. There are some really bad voice-overs during an early montage of the soldiers walking, some extremely awkward and unnecessary quick cuts as the soldiers discuss their predicament in the beginning of the film and even flashbacks at one point to stuff we literally saw five minutes before.

However, Kubrick shows off his potential in one particular scene where the soldiers ambush a stew shack staffed by a few enemy soldiers. As the men dispatch their enemies, Kubrick gives us close-ups of hands gripping at food and then slowly relaxing, as well as silent faces in the aftermath of the skirmish. It's a cleverly filmed sequence in a movie that otherwise can't really be recommended, except for its historical importance as Kubrick's first film.

Grade: D+

Summer Moviethon 2016: Killer's Kiss

July 10: #26, Killer's Kiss

Well anyway, I guess the whole thing is silly...know a girl for two days and fall in love.”

Stanley Kubrick's second feature film Killer's Kiss fakes out the viewer as it appears to be another film noir exercise where nothing works out for anybody until pretty late in the movie. Still, the black and white film shows off Kubrick making excellent use of light and shadows and even filming a pretty visceral low-angle boxing sequence, to boot. Of particular note in the fight is how Kubrick captures the disorientation of a downed fighter.

However, the film's acting and dialogue are not particularly memorable, and are downright bad in scenes such as an early moment where female lead Irene Kane (playing Gloria, lead character Davey's neighbor) argues with her employer/lover, the nefarious Vincent Rapallo (played by Frank Silvera).

For the sake of the film's very fast pace, Davey and Irene fall in love literally within a day or two, which Davey himself even mentions as peculiar a couple of times as the film proceeds. Davey is then instantly willing to risk it all for his new girlfriend, getting himself embroiled in serious trouble due to a misunderstanding that all starts with a stolen scarf on the street.

It's all a little silly, but Kubrick manages to shine with imaginative shots such as a wide shot of Vincent's henchmen advancing toward a cornered man in the darkness and a long, dark alley shot during a chase scene that gives way to a shot looking down from the fire escape as Davey scampers up it to get away from his pursuers. There's some clever, if obvious, symbolism as well (the “Watch Your Step” sign that's in the foreground midway through the film as Irene confronts her boss).

At the end, everything gets tied with a neat little bow and Killer's Kiss becomes a film that isn't bad, but is only really notable because of what Kubrick would do after it.

Grade: C+

Summer Moviethon: The Killing

July 9: #25, The Killing

"Now, we just have to board the plane with this cartoonishly large briefcase of money. What could go wrong?"

I was going to watch ten Kubrick films and then decided that I might as well watch his first three, as well. If anything, it would give me a chance to get back on pace a bit since they're all 85 minutes or less. Kubrick owed me that at least after I sat through several three-hour epics in a little over a week.

The killing is a black and white heist drama made right before Paths to Glory. It's also a good exercise in film noir as hard lessons are learned all around about such poor choices as marrying above your station and trusting anyone whatsoever.

The Killing sets a brisk pace, putting all the characters in place and setting the wheels in motion for a daring racetrack heist very quickly. Among the actors, you get a caricature of a 1950s gang leader played by Sterling Hayden and George, a cowardly husband played as wooden on purpose by Elisha Cook. The character who stands out most is the delightfully snarky Sherry Peatty, who is played exceptionally by Marie Windsor. Some of the best moments in the film are when she's casting shade at her hapless husband or manipulating him with ease.

You get a lot of old-timey detective film dialogue, but that's okay as it's to be expected for the time period and genre. What is a bit of a letdown is the rather weak ending, which relies on some really stupid luck and ridiculous coincidences even by noir standards.

Kubrick is coming into his own in this one, as he stages shots carefully, such as when he films an upward angle of the crew answering the hideout door so that you can't see who's barging in when the door opens. In that sequence, which is where plans really start to unravel, there's also a great moment where Kubrick goes into first person perspective as the hideout's lone survivor surveys the wreckage, breathing heavily. Overall, The Killing is an enjoyable, if rather forgettable heist drama.

Grade: B

Summer Moviethon 2016: Eyes Wide Shut

July 8: #24, Eyes Wide Shut

Tom Cruise is up all night to get lucky.

First, let's just point out that there's no possible way that Eyes Wide Shut could have met expectations for many of those who saw it. It was filmed 12 years after Stanley Kubrick's masterful Full Metal Jacket and was released after his death, so everyone knew it was his last film.

Even acknowledging that, the film is a bit of a mess. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise took time away from being the world's most uninteresting couple to play the world's most uninteresting couple in this film, with Kidman doing what she can to show up her hubby with some really bad overacting in the few scenes she manages to be in. It doesn't help that she appears in most of the film either stoned or drunk, nor does it help that the script is adamant about portraying nearly every woman in the film as one-note temptresses.

Well, there is that apparently pivotal argument scene early in the film where Kidman gets to stop auditioning for the role of Catwoman (seriously, watch her flirting at the party...so bad) and instead gets to play the role of the stereotypical Woman Who Just Wants to Argue. You get to marvel as she hysterically jumps to conclusions and erratically constructs terrible strawman arguments and Cruise, as the bored, rich doctor she's married to, plays the role of the husband who just doesn't get what his wife's deal is.

Besides the way the women are written in the film, which is decidedly 20th century, the plot is pretty bad. Kidman's character had a crush on a sailor she saw one time and thought, “Hey, if I had the chance, I'd probably bone him.” She tells Cruise this in a ridiculously drawn out story and gives her husband all the motivation he needs to go out for the rest of the night and try his damndest to get laid.

Oh, but let me save you an hour and a half...Cruise doesn't get laid. And it's not because he has a change of heart or realizes what a dipshit he's being, either. It's because ridiculous circumstances conspire to interrupt every chance that he gets to get some nookie. From timely phone calls to positive HIV tests, everything in the world seems to be happening only to deprive Cruise of dipping his noodle in some random vagina.

So what you have is basically Harold & Kumar Cheat on Their Wives, as Cruise's misadventures lead him to a ridiculous sex party-slash-Freemasons meeting that derails his quest for poontang and instead leaves him fearing for his life. Only then, when he realizes that he almost got killed over his need to get revenge on his wife for fantasizing about another guy, does he see that he doesn't want to cheat on her after all and would instead like to go do some Christmas shopping after telling her everything about his night on the town.

"I wonder if this cloak is hiding my raging boner."
You also get to enjoy some extremely annoying repeated piano accompaniment that is supposed to be minimalist and threatening and tense, but instead is grating and unimaginative and pretentious. Someone who liked this film would probably jump my case and talk about all the symbolism involved. Yes, there's plenty of that. Ominous red doors, headlines on a newspaper that say “Lucky to be Alive,” etc. There's a lot to examine here, just as with most Kubrick films.

That doesn't mean that it's enjoyable entertainment, though, and a lot of the symbolism is thrust in your face with such obvious vigor that any interest you may have in deciphering it quickly disappears. Kubrick films tend to be great because they work both on the surface level as simple entertainment with a clear theme and as deeper looks into more complex messages. This one doesn't work on that surface level, as it just comes off as a cautionary morality tale where the lead character gets to safely explore his wild side for a night before deciding that nope, a boring marriage isn't so bad after all.

Grade: D+